Sunday, January 25, 2009

January 25, 2009


Hello everybody.

“And the beat goes on…………………”



Malcolm Gladwell defines The Tipping Point as that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. He calls it "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”, and compares the spread of the critical mass to the behavior of a virus. He postulates that these kind of social ‘epidemics’ are the product of The Law of the Few – i.e., the 80/20 rule that twenty percent of the populace does eighty percent of the work. He further qualifies this law with another The Rule of 150: which states that groups grow too large and loose cohesion at 150. The advantage of adhering to the rule of 150 is that you can exploit the bonds of memory and peer pressure to their maximum.

He goes on to suggest that there are three categories of people in the twenty percent that are key to reaching a Tipping Point (Wikipedia summary):

Connectors are the people who "link us up with the world ... people with a special gift for bringing the world together.” They are, in other words, "a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [... for] making friends and acquaintances".

Mavens are "information specialists", or "people we rely upon to connect us with new information.” They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace and know how to share it with others.

Salesmen are "persuaders", charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, that makes others want to agree with them.

He includes two other considerations:

The Stickiness Factor: the specific content of a message that renders its impact memorable.
• How retainable is the idea or desired behavior?
• Is it memorable?
• Is it practical and personal – how the idea fits in one’s life?
• Is it novel?
• Is there a “simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible?

The Power of Context: Human behavior is sensitive to and strongly influenced by its environment. As Gladwell says, "Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur".

At it’s heart, Gladwell’s theory is that social phenomenon result from “word of mouth”, which is most efficiently and effectively spread by what music industry mogul, Clive Davis, use to describe (when opining how you break a new act) as getting the “tastemakers and trendsetters” to first embrace it.

If you want to consciously try to get to a Tipping Point (for example if we want to get the public to embrace support for the arts ecosystem as one of society’s highest priorities), then Gladwell’s theoretical framework poses as many questions as answers. In general terms:

1. At what point does it become obvious that something has reached a boiling point and is about to tip? Can you measure the progress to a Tipping Point or is it largely non quantifiable until it happens? Was the Renaissance the inevitable result of an identifiable Tipping Point, or was there a Tipping Point that set it into motion recognizable only after the fact?

2. The possibility of sudden change is at the center of the idea of the Tipping Point -- big changes occurring as a result of small events. If we agree that we are all, at heart, gradualists, our expectations set by the steady passage of time, is it reassuring to think that we can predict radical change by pinning their tipping points?

3. Most importantly, how do you set the tipping point in motion – what are the motivators, events, intersections that you have to establish and manipulate? How much of an epidemic is the result of small unnoticeable changes built one on the other until you reach the tipping point? Can you consciously set that in motion? Can you quantifiably monitor it?

4. Can you identify the Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen (Clive Davis’ tastemakers and trendsetters)? Can you semi-artificially create them? Even if you can identify who they are can you manipulate their behavior to employ them in a conscious effort to move towards a Tipping Point?

5. The media talks a lot about things that are “must see”; “must have”; or “must do” – how do you transfer that designation to daily behavior?

6. To what extent must old behaviors and prior ingrained thinking be first dealt with in order to move towards a Tipping Point that renders such thinking not only obsolete but anathema to those that have long embraced the old behavior, clung to the old thinking? So, for example, in the Middle East Palestinians and Israelis have for so long embraced violence as the response to their plight, that despite the recognition that there is NO military solution; that the only solution will be political, nothing changes. How do they move to a Tipping Point?

7. If what we are really talking about is contagion – the same dynamic that permeates an otherwise peaceful protest and turns it into a ‘riot’, how do you manage the dynamics of contagion? Is the novelty of the iPhone its own Tipping Point, or is the onslaught of ‘applications’ for the device, the Tipping Point?

Let’s look at a couple of examples within our own sector – arts education and the arts / business intersection.

In the arts education arena, how do we finally get to a new Tipping Point where arts education is no longer considered a ‘luxury’, a ‘frill’ – on a par in people’s minds at least to the same extent as math & science have become? Can we trace the rise of math & science as essential core subjects that must be supported? We can start, I suppose, with Sputnik and Kennedy’s clarion call to “land a man on the moon within a decade” as an external event that heralded a Tipping Point. But even today those who are proponents of more math and science in the curriculum, continue to argue for their cause. Did we then ever really reach a Tipping Point for the embrace of more math & science in the curriculum? Is the continuing cry for more math & science the response to the reality that we never did reach a Tipping Point the result of which was that more students embraced those two disciplines. What does it matter if educators recognized, accepted and embraced the need for more math & science and moved to provide it, if the student population simply wasn’t interested in taking more math & science. Did we reach one Tipping Point, but not the essential “second” Tipping Point in this case? Will today’s efforts (largely that of the Silicon Valley industries who need more students versed in math & science people to fuel their R&D departments) finally succeed in reaching a Tipping Point that will bring more and more young people to embrace those disciplines, or are those current efforts ignoring that “second” Tipping Point objective and still stuck thinking the first Tipping Point is where they should focus their efforts?

We have, for a decade or more, been consciously trying to convince educators, funders, the media and the public, that arts education should, no must, be a ‘core’ subject – every bit as important to the education of our kids, as any other subject. We have amassed studies and statistics, put forth theories and waged advertising campaigns to accomplish that simple goal. And I think we have done an admirable job. And I think too we have succeeded – in part anyway. But have we yet reached the Tipping Point? I don’t think so. We are still considered a luxury, a frill. Is all that effort just the foundation on which we can now strategically move to the Tipping Point? How do we do that? How do we move educators, teachers, parents, students, funders, corporate America and government to get to the Tipping Point?

Take the corporate sector as a sub-case. We continue to argue to business & industry that arts education is key to graduating students with the very skill sets that business wants. Yet business has not taken up the arts education banner to the extent we have sought. And beyond business support for arts education, for three decades, the nonprofit arts sector has been seeking – with very limited success – to capitalize on intersections between it and the corporate / business community. The vast majority of efforts in this arena have been small and localized (i.e., individual arts organizations attempting to build bridges and form partnerships / alliances on individual, isolated projects, often limited to seeking corporate sponsorships; or Arts & Business Council/Business Committee for the Arts initiatives, for which arts organizations have shown far more enthusiasm than businesses). Larger forays into the promotion of sector wide collaborations have principally been limited to periodic dialogue characterized by the most general of precepts; lacking specificity, strategic / practical next steps, and any timeline for the accomplishment of specific agenda items.

Recent developments that have elevated the importance of creativity to America’s global competitiveness, and expanded research into the role and value of certain skills that arts education purportedly deliver to the job preparedness of the workforce, have further opened (slightly) the door to move towards potentially more substantive relationships between the arts sector and the business community.

The arts sector knows what it wants: more vocal support and money. The business community is not yet convinced what (if any) benefit accrues to it from furtherance of the relationship between the two sectors (aside from building community “good-will”), nor, specifically, how the arts might help it to harness the elusive concept of “creativity” to its benefit. Recent studies suggest the two sectors, even after decades, do not yet even share a common, consensus vocabulary when discussing the issues. Most of the stimulus for further dialogue, research, and pilot partnership programs originates in the arts sector, not in the business community.

While concerted effort has been made over the past decade to convince government (at the local, state and federal levels), and the education and business communities, that arts education should be of equal value and importance (to other core subjects) to schools and to corporate America, and of the direct relationship between arts education and proficiency in science and math, the arts remain the step-child to science, technology, engineering and math, and continue to be regarded as an ‘elective’ subject. Business does not value art to the same extent it values science and math, nor does it acknowledge any linkage between studying the arts and either proficiency in other academic subjects, or success in school in general (including attendance, behavior, motivation and self-esteem). Business and industry have yet to buy into the proposition that an arts background has a relationship to innovation in the workplace.

In short, though we have supposedly been in a dialogue with corporate America for years, we are still at the very beginning of fashioning any kind of workable, sustainable partnerships / relationships between business and the arts on a large scale. We haven’t gotten to any Tipping Point where we can move dialogue to action.

As a precursor to that Tipping Point, we need to move our agenda forward by:

1) Understanding what, specifically, the business community might want from a working relationship between the sectors (i.e., how such a potential relationship could be perceived of as actually benefiting business);

2) Establishing a common, consensus based vocabulary centered on the concept of “creativity”, its role and value, and the methods by which creativity can be demonstrably grown, quantified, and managed;

3) Devising a strategic approach to insure that the potential value to both sectors of continuing exploration into the possibilities of collaboration and cooperation filter across and through all levels of the sectors;

4) Laying the foundation for the development of sustained channels for dialogue and action by and between the two sectors at a high national, executive level.

Specifically, we need to ascertain:

1) What the concept of creativity means to the business community in terms of it’s:

• Place as a core corporate value
• Role in driving innovation
• Function in identifying challenges and obstacles
• Value in problem solving
• Relationship to motivation, productivity, competitiveness and talent recruitment and retention
• Intersection with corporate communication, marketing, design, and product development
• Advantage in the development of business relationships, including, specifically, global partnerships.

2) What role the arts sector might play in addressing the perceived needs of the business community, and how what the arts sector has to offer might positively support corporate goals in the areas of innovation, talent acquisition, employee retention, job satisfaction and training.

3) The near term opportunities to advance the dialogue and move to real, working partnerships.


Our core base has been substanially the same for a long time. Certainly we have widened that base considerably over time. The sheer number of those who sympathize and empathize with us, who support us has increased. But the sources of that increased number may not have expanded. More people are on our side, but they come from the same places they have long come from. We haven't yet drawn into our sphere precisely those we need to champion our cause, or, to put it another way, those who do champion us simply aren't the right people to get us to Gladwell’s Tipping Point. We haven't yet 'activated’, as it were, the tastemakers and trendsetters to put in motion the “word of mouth” campaign that is essential, and so, I would argue, we need to first Cast A Wider Net than we currently have, and to do that we need to know what those potential Connectors, Mavens, & Salesmen really want – what are their self-interests that we can satisfy that will move them. And, I would argue we really don’t yet have that information. If we want Arts Education to really be a core subject, simply making the case isn’t really the first step. Our Making the Case is all about us. I don’t think Gladwell’s Connectors, Mavens & Salesmen move because something is about someone else. They move because something is about them. Now, Making Our Case may strike some chord in those we want to enlist, but we would arguably do better if we could identify some of those chords we might strike.

The first step is to identify, then determine how we can satisfy the needs of those whose help we need – teachers, administrators, students, and parents. If we want business to really partner with us, we need to know what benefit we can offer that will move them. Step One in really Casting A Wider Net is to identify what those who would spread the word of mouth campaign want / need. This is true whether our goal is arts education on a par with math & science, new financial support from the corporate sector, expanding our audiences or gaining new financial support. In every situation, simply making the case for our value doesn’t necessarily address the “needs” that will move those we need to help us move to the Tipping Point – which I would argue is far less about “us”, and far more about those that will spread the message. We have been focusing far too much on “us” and not enough on “them”. You can’t cast a Wider Net when the focus is on ‘our’ needs, wants, positions, value. We have to shift the emphasis. Please note I am NOT arguing against Making Our Case, not suggesting that there hasn’t been tremendous inherent value in the Herculean efforts of the past decade – only that we now, more than ever, need to become even more sophisticated in our approaches and designs.

Take arts education: we need teachers, school administrators, parents and students to get to a point where the demand for arts education reaches a Tipping Point. What do they want? Teachers are largely concerned with their own classrooms. Who will teach the arts? Will it be them? Will they get training? Will they be paid more? Will this mean more work for them? Will it help their students succeed? Are we addressing those questions? Take school administrators: what do they want? They are concerned with scheduling - where in the day is there room to teach arts? Where are the classrooms? Where will the supplies and teachers come from. And most important to Administrators - who will pay for it all? Take parents: How does this help my kid learn, succeed? And then the students themselves (the biggest challegne for the math & science boosters): will this help me get into college? succeed in business, in my job / career search? in life? Is it fun? Are the "cool" kids into it?

If we want to Cast A Wider Net to move to the Tipping Point we have to figure out how to address some of these issues in order to make our case more persuasively and effectively.

This is a wieldy subject, and as I said a couple of weeks ago, I am only trying to offer a framework for more productive discussion of how we might strategize to reach our objectives. This is just the beginning. I hope you will pick apart my (admittedly) surface thinking here, to help me develop a more cohesive, comprehensive and intelligent theory that can help us all. And as I offered earlier in this blog, the questions I am trying to raise simply raise MORE questions. My hope is that over the course of the year, I can raise questions, get us all to think about the Tipping Point, whether or not we can manipulate it, and how we can succeed in Casting A Wider Net that will yield us the recruits we need to get to a more substantial and meaningful grassroots word of mouth phenomenon that will help us to achieve our goals – including making arts education the equivalent of math / science, and lighting a fire under the business community that will lead to real support by them for our agenda – as only two goals among many.

I know my approach is not terribly sophisticated at this stage. I am not an academician, nor is my approach even close to being as rigorous an exercise as critics could rightly point out. I am, at this point, just a blogger, and my purpose is to spur dialogue and discussion, in the firm belief that within our community of arts and arts education administrators there is, in the aggregate, the experience, talent, critical thinking capacity and enough smart, savvy people that we can develop practical approaches that will get us closer to where we want to be than we have done thus far.

More on this next month.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit


Sunday, January 18, 2009

January 18, 2009


Hello Everybody.

"And the beat goes on................."

I had intended this blog to continue the discourse started a couple of weeks ago on moving our marketing efforts to CAST A WIDER NET (theories & thoughts on reaching the Tipping Point with different approaches -- more next week), but with the inaguration of President Elect Obama on Tuesday, I thought I would take the opportunity to comment briefly on the historical moment.

First though, an update on our sector's efforts to move our agenda forward as part of the Obama Administration's First 100 Days Action Steps.

This from Americans for the Arts at the end of last week:

"The House Appropriations Committee released an $825 billion economic recovery package. Included in the proposed bill is an infusion of $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (in addition to its annual appropriations) to specifically preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support. The House plan proposes additional opportunities throughout other parts of the federal government that could also help the nonprofit arts sector and individual artists. Many of these other opportunities correspond closely with our Recommendations for Economic Recovery & the Arts."

Congratulations (and thank you, thank you) to Bob Lynch & his team, along with Jonathan Katz, Bill Ivey and (I surmise) at least a score (or more) of other people who have played an instrumental role in our sector mobilizing its efforts to lobby the incoming Obama Administration as to the value of arts & culture, and our pressing needs in this trying economic climate. I think this is a really encouraging sign for us - both because we are finally getting our act together to stand up for ourselves, and because that effort seems to be producing tangible results. I salute and thank all of our leaders (and all of you who are joining their lead) in making the case for protection of the arts in America. This is tremendous. (It is, however, not yet a done deal. We need massive support to ring through the halls of Congress).

Click here to read the Nine Recommendations for Economic Recovery & the Arts proposal put forth by Americans for the Arts:

Also last week a petition, inspired by Quincy Jones, to create a Secretary of the Arts at the Cabinet level began ciruculation. Click here:

Again I strongly urge all of you to support these efforts. Write to Obama and your Congress persons and Senators and urge them to support the arts with inclusion of funds from the Recovery Stimulus package. And sign the Secretary of the Arts petition.

Tuesday we finally turn the page on a long, disasterous chapter of American history, and move again into the uncertain future with new hope.

The inaguration of Barack Obama is, of course, historical. The election of a person of color to the presidency is an event most of us never thought we would see during our lifetimes. It sends a powerful message of renewal not only around the world, but to ourselves. The country is growing up. Despite our problems, despite the mistakes, missteps, embarassments, catastrophic and unimaginable blunders of the past eight years, America again has the opportunity to reclaim its better instincts and the promise of global leadership. America can once more reclaim its soul, its identity, its purpose.

Nations today are yesterday's tribes - more unwieldy with layers of complexity far beyond the smaller tribal versions of the past. But tribes nonetheless. To succeed today as a nation, as a people -- as a tribe - to protect ourselves, offer something back and grow - for our benefit and more importantly for the benefit of our children - we must begin to once more think of ourselves as a people with common goals, values and aspirations. We must think again in terms of the whole of us, of sacrifice, of building a better tomorrow through common action.

Obama has been reaching out to build bridges across deep divides, even where many of us wish he would not. Our natural instinct has been not to extend a hand to past enemies, but to seek our revenge on them, and that is wrong thinking. IF we have any chance to repair the damage to our economy, our global standing, to our education, health care and numerous other "systems", we have to put away old thinking, old suspicions, old animosities and bury the proverbial hatchet. We have to again become a 'tribe'.

There is a danger that we now deify Obama and in so doing put unreasonable expectations on him - expecting HE will solve all OUR problems. Won't happen. Not without all of us working together -- together in new ways, as never before.

Hopefully, President Obama will call on all of us tomorrow to join in a renewal of our tribe and we will respond. America is both loved and reviled around the world. Still, it is OUR country and though far, far from perfect, we have both a legacy and future of which we can be proud. Now we need to repair the damage done, and rebuild. And in our small little niche - the nonprofit Arts & Culture Sector - we can and should play a very important role in helping our people to move towards our better future. There is now a moment of opportunity to again believe in what might be possible -- not just the positioning of the arts more front & center in American life -- but in the way we behave as a tribe.

Though we are in for a very rough 2009 (and who knows how long beyond that), I think this is a time for us to dare to hope again; to find new inner strength to fight for what we know is important. In our own community this is a time for us to unite to protect and nurture each other - for large & small arts organizations all across the country - arts organiztions of every discipline, of every size to find new ways to work together, new ways to collaborate, new ways to build bigger audiences, share data and information, reach out to new funding sources. It is a time to put away territorial jealousies and some of the barriers that have separated us in the past and made us competitors rather than partners; it is a time to take the time to help each other. It is a time for our tribe to think in terms of what is good for "The ARTS" as well as what is good for ourselves. It is time to reconnect, to reach out to each other, to think in terms of us being a "TRIBE".

Like innumerable other sectors we have a leadership role to play - leading by example. Unlike other sectors, we are far more visible, with many more tenacles reaching out into our communities. Think of the message we would send, if all across the country, people saw the arts uniting around a rebuilding and renewal theme, saw us working together, collaborating in new ways as never before, reaching out into those communities united with our message of why and how the arts can nurture renewal and new growth. Not a hundred thousand individual organiztions, but one FIELD - THE ARTS - speaking as never before with a united voice.

Oh, I know, I am just some kind of foolish, pollyanna -- spouting nice, lofty aspirations. Naive, even dense, because, after all there is hardly the time for any of this, and job number one is survival - and survival is pretty much a lonely pursuit. Is it really? Take the crash of the NW Airplane in the Hudson last week -- didn't those people survive precisely because so many people acted in concert together to save them? There IS an opportunity here at this moment to do some of the things we do differently than we have ever done them; an opportunity for a fundamental change in how one tiny little sector operates as a whole.

I know too that many people reading this will ask themselves: "What the hell is he talking about?" And the honest answer is that I am not exactly sure. I'm talking about somehow our field figuring out new ways to do business AS A 'field' - new ways to redefine how we see ourselves as a 'tribe'. I don't know exactly what that means or how it is accomplished, but if all of you out there talk to each other I have faith you will come up with new thinking that can move us in new directions. I know that we aren't just individual organizations - separate dance companies, theater groups, symphonies, museums, film labs etc. etc. spread across big and little cities -- we are more than that -- we are THE ARTS. There are things we can do ONLY as THE ARTS, and while our primary responsibility is to the health of our own organizations, we also have a responsibility to the tribe. And it isn't just about responsibility, it is about self-interest, because making time to act in concert will ultimately help us as individuals. Just like it will take all Americans to really change our future, so too will it take everyone in the arts - not just the leaders, but you - for us to change our future.

So I urge all of you to seize this new moment in time to launch new initiatives, new dialogues, new thinking about how we can better act together to really advance our common agendas. Call somebody you know in our field this week and just talk about this. If there were 10,000 such conversations next week, I know that some ideas would spring up and it would lead somewhere. And I promise you that in that process you will find new strength, new resolve, new hope so that you will NOT QUIT.

Tuesday we can all be proud of our country. I know many of you, like me, will watch the pagentry and spectacle of the inaguration, listen to the words of encouragement, and a tear or two will come to your eyes. One of God's greatest gifts, it seems to me, is that we can both laugh and cry when we are happy. Let those tears flow people - we've waited a long time.

And if I haven't said it in awhile, THANK YOU - for everything you do for the arts and in so doing, everything you do for our country.

End of rant and thank you for your indulgence.

Have a great week America.

Happy Martin Luther King day - more meaningful than ever this year.

Don't Quit.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

January 11, 2009


Hello everyone.

"And the beat goes on..............."


I am encouraged that there seems to be, at least the beginning, of more dialgoue on what role the arts should play in an America under the Obama Administration, and a clarion call for his Administration to include our sector in his plans for a revitalized America.

Consider these two recent editorial / Op Ed pieces:

In the Boston Globe - click here:

And in the Washington Post - click here:

I would hope this would be the very beginning of a concerted effort on our sector's part to push for a national arts & culture agenda.

I am pleased Americans for the Arts and NASAA and other national arts organizations are now trying to forcefully make the case for our needs and value to Obama as he gets ready to assume the presidency. I hope all of the national arts organizations join in, AND GIA (Grantmakers in the Arts)and its individual member foundations, as well as stakeholders like the PTA and others join the chorus. We need a massive, united voice, now, before the door on this opportunity is closed.


You know, it is relatively easy to get an Op Ed piece published in your local newspaper. I strongly encouage all of you who read this blog to spread the word across the country to write Op Ed pieces and submit them to your local daily newspaper. If you aren't sure how to submit it, please just CALL the editorial offices of your paper and ask them for their guidelines (number of words etc.)and submission policy. They will be happy to share it with you and help you. And they actually look for organizational affiliations and leaders within the community to submit Op Ed pieces.

Please draft a short OpEd this week. Get other people in your area, in your discipline area to sign on as a co-author. Submit a piece calling for the Obama Administration to fund the arts as part of an infrastructure stimulus / bail-out / investment plan. Just use your own words to make these points:

1. Including the nonprofit arts in a stimulus plan will help to both protect existing, and create new, jobs. Lots of middle class jobs.

2. It will also help stimulate local economies and help them to recover by boosting tourism (a key industry in communities across the country)with a positive impact on local hotels and restuarants etc.

3. The arts play a role in increasing optimism and establishing a psychological climate conducive to recovery. Not only that but the arts are a critical part of the ecosystem that will generate the new ideas and new thinking that will move us forward again.

Add whatever stories you have. Even if your paper doesn't print it, you can (and should) put it in your newsletter and on your website, and encourage your constituents, supporters, audiences and volunteers to WRITE to Obama and demand support for the arts.

We have millions of people who support us and we are NOT taking advantage of this asset. YOU can change this squandering of our most potent weapon - public opinion. If not YOU, who will do it? If we were to get scores of Op Ed pieces in newspapers across the country on this need, if OpEds appeared on thousands of arts websites we could ratchet up the issue and that would be enormously helpful in lobbying Obama to move on our behalf and not leave us out in the cold again. You don't have time? Recruit somebody within your organization to do it.

Anyone can write one of these Op Ed pieces - heads of small and large arts organizations, foundation program officers, artists, volunteers, patrons -- people just like YOU.

I understand why performing arts organizations and museums are reluctant to take time out of performances or otherwise compromise the experience of their art, by asking their audiences to help in convincing government to support us. I don't agree with it. It seems short sighted to me at best. Frankly, I think somebody should take three minutes in front of the audiencee of every single arts performance across this whole country that happen over the next two months (at least) and ask the audience to contact legislators and the Obama administration and urge them to include us in the national stimulus package. I personally think it resonates with audiences and that they would respond.

But they won't if they aren't asked. Don't want to take up their time? Then have a flyer ready to hand out with what you are asking for, and then take just thirty seconds (thirty lousy seconds) and tell them to read the flyer and help us if they can. If we can't do that, let's just throw in the towel folks. At least put such a plea in your electronic newsletters and on your websites.

NOW IS THE TIME TO DO THIS. Will YOU take a few moments this week and recapture control of our destiny?

And if an OpED piece has appeared in a newspaper in your area (or even just in your newsletter or on your website)calling for support from Obama, please forward the link to me so I can pass it on to others.

Have a good week.

More next week on The Tipping Point and Casting A Wider Net.

Don't Quit!


Sunday, January 4, 2009

January 04, 2009


Hello everybody.

“And the beat goes on……………………………….”

Welcome 2009. The world has been anxiously awaiting you. Be kind, please.


I was watching a year end summary report on CNN yesterday and the commentator introduced a segment on the economic meltdown with the following remark: “And if the ‘smartest men in the world’ – those who run the big financial institutions on Wall Street couldn’t prevent this collapse, what do we do in the future?”

"The smartest men in the world"? Does anybody believe that those morons are the smartest men in the world? OMG – if true, we are up the proverbial creek. They certainly qualify as some of the greediest men in the world, some of the most selfish. They might actually be some of the dumbest men in the world. Or if their goal was to bilk the public and scam for their own profit, maybe they are smart, and we are the dumb ones. Anyway, this got me thinking that as a culture we attribute intelligence and even practical smarts to those we assume have ‘expertise’ in a given area. And we often believe people have superior expertise and understand things we don’t, know things we don’t, because their supposed ‘area of expertise’ is just too complicated for lay people to comprehend. They understand it, we don’t.

I remember when I was in my third year of law school and thinking that as a class of professionals lawyers have interjected themselves into multiple layers of business and everyday life under the guise of ‘expertise’ and superior knowledge. And the way lawyers (and virtually every class of experts it seems to me) succeeds in convincing everyone that only they have this superior knowledge is that they make up their own vocabulary. Only lawyers speak “law”. It’s a secret language the average person cannot fathom. Anyone who is not a lawyer who has tried to read the proverbial ‘fine print’ in a contract knows that they don’t speak the "foreign language" of law. Only the lawyers can translate into English the meaning and consequences of the law – and thus ‘protect’ you. And that’s why they are indispensable.

Of course lawyers have a vested interest in maintaining this belief. The whole of society is replete with examples of these “experts”. For 95% of the population who take their car into the mechanic when something goes wrong, you know that when you are told that “your Johnson Rods are hanging and need repair” you have little option but to say ok. Because though you may bluster and look skeptical as you try to convey the impression that you know what they are talking about, you know that you have no idea what your Johnson Rods are, if such a thing even exists, and whether or not the fact that they may be ‘hanging’ is a serious problem. You are at the mercy of those who know. Such a system is akin to being in a country, and not speaking the local language – perhaps someone interprets for you – but you have no idea if they are translating what you say. You are at their mercy. Monty Python had a bit on their show once where a Brit was a tourist in Hungry and bought an English / Hungarian dictionary that had all the translations wrong. So when he went in a store and looked up the phrase “Do you have any gum?”, it was translated into: “Will you fondle my buttocks.”

Such is the case with investment advice and counsel and the world of high finance. The comedian Buddy Hacket was on the old Johnny Carson show one night twenty years ago, and there had just been a major scandal where a prominent investment counselor had absconded with the money of a score of prominent celebrities, including those of both Carson & Hackett. Johnny asked Buddy how it could have happened to them, and Hacket replied: “Gee, I don’t know about you, but this stuff is beyond me. I get in a room with my manager, lawyer, accountant, banker, investment counselor and a couple other guys and they talk to me in ‘baby talk’ and then I nod my head”.

We’re in trouble now because the Bush Administration convinced us the intelligence experts knew what they were talking about in Iraq, the Wall Street experts knew what they were talking about in terms of banking de-regulation, the HMO’s knew what they were talking about in terms of health care provision, and the Detroit guys knew what they were talking about in terms of a competitive auto industry. None of these "experts" knew what they were talking about.

We do the same thing in the nonprofit field. We can’t even afford to avail ourselves of that many experts, but we defer to expertise whenever we get the chance – whether the interpretation of statistics or the conclusions to be drawn from theories about how to get to Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point and other marketing strategies. It's as though the whole of society defers to expertise because it's easy to make decisions about things somebody else's challenge.

We have to break out of the mold of doing things the same way we have always done them – because this Culture of Repetitive Behavior isn’t serving us well. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians parrot the same lofty goals of peaceful co-existence, and acknowledge that there is NO military solution to their problem, then refuse to relinquish their commitment to violence as the response of first choice.

We're in an endless cycle of behavior that does not work.

The whole world needs to ‘change’. And that leads to Obama’s election, which election was indisputably ‘change’ in and of itself. But will he actually change the system? Get us out of the cycle? So far his appointments are lauded almost everywhere – good, experienced people – "experts" if you will – people who speak the various ‘secret languages’ you and I don’t. But not yet have we seen new thinkers; the real out-of-the-box, maverick people who can presage real ‘change’ – people who have yet to actually invent their own new language to confuse us. It will be Obama’s second tier of appointments – to various agencies and to key senior advisor posts within the White House - that will tell us if real change is on the way.

Personally, I would like to see documentary film makers, investigative journalists with impeccable credentials for facts and honesty (are there any left?), and writers, commentators and academicians recruited to move us away from the tired old ‘spin’ doctors – the ‘experts’ who speak the secret babble and know what it really means. I would like to see new people like Malcolm Gladwell, and people who will take the conversation in a bigger direction – artists and people looking at the bigger picture (like Bill Ivey) appointed to key positions. Watch for those advisor 'without portfolio' appointments to see if Obama will institute any meaningful change. Those are the people who will set the stage for change shifts that will mean something. Bush had virtually none of those people. I am skeptical. I think Obama will more likely be a precursor of future change, than bring real change himself.

I am not saying we should shun all expertise and experience. Nor am I arguing that data and research are anything but vitally important for us. All I am arguing is that we have become complacent and reliant on advice that we automatically “assume” is good advice when we really have no way of knowing. I am arguing for the recognition that knowing a secret language is no guarantee that insight and good advice (let alone success) comes with that knowledge, and therefore we need to be a little more questioning, a little more suspicious, a little more cautious before we commit the very limited resources (time, money, energy) we have based on what somebody ‘tells us’. We need to listen a little bit to our intuitions and gut, to our common sense reactions. We need to stop trying to borrow some approach that worked in some unrelated arena and just assume we can mold it to fit our needs.

We need to shake things up. We need, at least in some instances (and our own self-interest) to lead not follow.

And thus, I think, as a sector, we must begin to champion our own new advisors – people who do NOT rely on a lexicon only they can decipher. We are, after all the creative sector – and we need to start being more creative in how we strategize to solve our problems. The same old approaches, the same futile expertise simply isn’t serving us very well. We need to listen to new voices too.


So what. What is my point? I just took 1200 words to say essentially: “The world at large, and the arts specifically, have to trust their own instincts more and rely less on so-called experts”? The reason I am making the point at all is that this blog is a set-up for what is to come.

For a long time I have been interested in Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point theory – or more pointedly, I have been interested in ‘how’ (or if) it might be possible to consciously, intentionally, strategically move towards the Tipping Point. Tipping Points happen, there are causes for their happening, there are explanations as to why they happen, you can chart what was involved in reaching the critical mass that lead to a Tipping Point. But how do you set out to get there? Are there conscious, practical things you can do that will move your organization, your product or service, your idea closer to the Tipping Point? In other words can it be manufactured, manipulated, managed? Can you create a campaign the end result of which will BE the Tipping Point?

How to do that is critical – otherwise it is just a very provocative and interesting theory and way to look at things – but not terribly valuable to move from point 'A' to point 'B'.

While there is no map or blueprint to move to the Tipping Point, and doubtless every Tipping Point is unique to its own circumstances, there are, I think, practical approaches to increase your chances, improve your odds – specific initiatives that even if they don’t bring you all the way, nonetheless have value – with the potential of actually achieving the essential critical mass that is a condition precedent for the Tipping Point.

To get there I think we need to begin an internal dialogue on the assumptions of our marketing strategies – whether they be audience development, fund raising or pleas for public support. For the past half year I have been voraciously reading materials on marketing, human behavior, change dynamics and the like. I have developed the tentative framework for a new theory for the arts (well, Theory may be too ambitious a term, but thoughts on the elements invovled in our marketing / sales approaches - some new, some borrowed). I call it ‘Casting the Wider Net’. I propose, over the next year, to present to you via this blog, the framework of that thinking, and, probably more importantly, all the unanswered questions that this initial bare bones framework will suggest. Hopefully, with your help and input, we can collectively begin to “suss” it out and see where it might lead us. I invite you all to help me refine new thinking as to our marketing approaches. If it turns out to be useless, so be it – I think the exercise itself of trying to develop a new approach to something as fundamental to us as our approach to marketing / sales can be well worth the effort, and might lead us to fascinating new places.

While I certainly am not suggesting we cast off all we know about marketing, marginalize the new thinking that has been going on in the past couple of years or otherwise foolishly reject all expertise, I am suggesting that we need to do three things: 1) come up with new ways to market ourselves, 2) integrate the various different approaches, theories, new thoughts into some kind of cohesive over arching approach, and 3) differentiate between short term needs and strategies and long term thinking. The arts sector is in some big trouble right now. As I said a couple of weeks ago, we need a bailout of the whole ecosystem - otherwise we will simply spend the next decade trying to survive and rebuild rather than thrive and grow.

So I need people to begin to cast off the yoke of blind deference to prior ‘expert’ thinking, and our collective sublimation to secret languages that do little more for us than protect the agendas of the experts. I need people to accept that we can develop our own theories and hypothesis, and then test and refine them ourselves, based on our own experiences and expertise. That is precisely what we should, and must, do. The answers to some of our most pressing problems lie within our own heads - based partly on our experience, partly on our common sense, partly on our research.

If your are trying to market some new fashion statement to the Millennial generation, it makes little sense to direct your efforts to the AARP crowd. If you want more people in your audience you can't ignore content as a variable. Yet, these are examples of the kind of thinking that seems to me precisely the way we approach trying to expand our audiences, get new donors, and move the public to demand our product. The only Tipping Point we are accomplishing is to Tip Ourselves over like some turtle that then can't right itself. Witness the recent spate of closing of our institutions here in California and across the country in the last few months.

More to come. Lots more to come.

Have a great first week of the year.

Don’t Quit.